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New expansions in sight for Oxford Area Trail Network

<p>Oxford city officials hope to have the Oxford Area Trail Network completed by 2028. </p>

Oxford city officials hope to have the Oxford Area Trail Network completed by 2028.

The Oxford Area Trails (OATs) are considered an outdoor safe space by many in Oxford, loved for the simple pleasures the trails offer within their wooded paths. 

Kristin Pennington, a 2004 Miami alumna who’s been an Oxford resident since 2009, is one of them.

“I really love what they’ve done so far,” Pennington said. “I think it would be great to have even farther paths. I’m currently training for a half marathon, so I’m using them a lot.” 

According to the Oxford Area Trails website, the network was initially planned over 30 years ago by a group of Oxford residents. In 2007, the group reformed to advocate for an official plan that was ultimately added to the 2008 City Comprehensive Plan. 

Phase 1 of the OATs is just over a mile long and is referred to as the "Black Bridge Connector" because it crosses the historic Black Covered Bridge that connects Kelly Drive to Leonard Howell Park on Bonham Road.” 

Alice Laatsch, another resident of Oxford, has been using the trails for years.

“I used to walk up and down all the woods, but as I got older I found that beyond my physical capabilities,” Laatsch said. “I love the new trails that are being done.” 

The trails are far from completed, though.

Casey Wooddell, director of Oxford Parks and Recreation, said the project aims to create a direct connection to the schools in Oxford. 

“Ultimately, the goal is to join the middle school and high school together, which would be another huge asset … just the general idea that we’re going to connect the transportation trail, the recreation trail and now the ability to provide this safe off-street [route] to schools and parks and even low-income neighborhoods.” Wooddell said. “It’s hard to ask for much more than that out of a trail.”

He said biker safety is another area for improvement. For bikers who don’t feel safe riding on Oxford’s streets, the trails provide a good alternative. 

For Assistant City Manager Jessica Greene, the OATs expansion project is personal. 

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She first got involved in 2013 when she worked for Enjoy Oxford, looking at the trails as both a tourist attraction and a safe place for her kids to learn to ride bikes. Beyond that, it provided a comfortable place for her father to enjoy the outdoors.

“My father got sick, and he was wheelchair bound,” Greene said. “He loved the outdoors, and there were so few places I could take him where it wasn’t bumpy … He had cancer. It hurt him to go over those bumps. And so there were very few smooth places he could enjoy the outdoors. Those things together were a huge personal catalyst.”

Greene said she hopes to have the full 12 miles of trails complete by 2028.

“It’s a very ambitious goal, but I’m going to try really hard, and no one’s going to say I didn’t try,” she said. “That means being very strategic with grants, being strategic in our planning, making sure we have all of our ducks in a row so that we’re the most competitive city when we do write these grants.”

There are a myriad of requirements for being selected for such grants. These include having updated trail estimates, route alignments, updated transportation and having trail statistics in a comprehensive plan less than five years old.

For Greene, the intentionality behind keeping up-to-date on both the goals and approved policies for council was something she “had to pay the most attention to.”

Despite the challenges ahead, Greene is still aiming to finish the project by 2028. 

“That’s my goal,” Greene said, “and I will stick to it.”